This coming Thursday at sunset, the most solemn and sacred occasion of the year will begin: the Passover.
This observance is unsurpassed in solemnity because every one of us has sinned, and the wages of our sin is death (Romans 3:23; 6:23). We will die unless our sins are forgiven. But the Creator of the universe came to Earth. He did not sin. Jesus Christ, our Passover, was brutally beaten and murdered to pay for our sins in our place. He came here as God in the flesh to die for the sins each of us has committed. That is what it takes to pay for your sins. Passover is a memorial of that great sacrifice and that terrible crucifixion, without which, none of us has any future.
But who should observe Passover? How can you know if you should keep this crucial memorial?
In ancient Israel, some 1,500 years before Christ’s ministry, the whole nation was commanded to keep Passover. In this observance, they acted out the prophecy of the Lamb of God coming from heaven to be sacrificed for all mankind (Exodus 12:3-5). Each household had a lamb, so there would have been hundreds of thousands of lambs killed. Those slaughtered lambs pointed to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God (John 1:29). The blood of those lambs saved nobody, but it pointed to the sacrifice that would later take away the sins of the world.
Passover was commanded to be observed forever (Exodus 12:24). Scripture shows that Israel continued to observe the Passover even long after they had entered into the Promised Land.
When Jesus was about 12 years old, the custom of His Jewish parents was to observe the Passover “every year” (Luke 2:41). Christ Himself kept the Passover all the years of His life. And on the last Passover He kept just before being killed, He changed the symbols from the lamb to the broken unleavened bread and the wine. (To learn about the meaning of the symbols, read “What Do I Need to Know About Passover?”)
Around 25 years later, the Apostle Paul was teaching the Gentile Corinthian converts to keep Passover and to do so with these new symbols (1 Corinthians 11:23-25). Years later, Paul wrote to the Hebrews about the Passover (Hebrews 11:28). This shows the memorial was still being observed decades after Christ’s crucifixion.
The bread and wine remain the Passover symbols to this day. When observers of the memorial today eat the small piece of unleavened bread and drink a small amount of wine, they show that they have accepted His broken body for the healing of their diseases (the result of physical sins) and have come under His shed blood for the remission of spiritual sins.
But the Bible is clear that only those who meet certain conditions may observe the Passover.
When God commanded ancient Israel to keep this observance, He did nottell the surrounding countries to take part—but only His people. Some people who were with the Israelites were called “strangers” because they were not birthright Israelites. Exodus 12:43 and 45 show that these strangers were not to keep the Passover unless and until they met certain requirements. Verse 48 says such people were only permitted to keep Passover if their males were circumcised.
By undergoing circumcision, these “strangers” showed their willingness to come under God’s law, which required all of the male Israelites to be circumcised. Circumcision was required to become a citizen of Israel and to be allowed to take the Passover.
In New Testament times, we find that circumcision of the flesh is no longer required to be a member of the Church. Just as the symbols for taking Passover were changed with Christ, so the rite of circumcision was changed. This ceremony is now circumcision of the heart. When a person comes to repentance, is baptized by one of God’s true ministers in the Church of God, and is willing to obey God’s law, he becomes spiritually circumcised. We are baptized for the “remission of sins” (Acts 2:38), and “sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). So, circumcision of the heart is about obedience to God’s law (Romans 2:25-29). This spiritual circumcision is also called conversion. This is how a Christian becomes a spiritual Jew.
During the solemn and sacred Passover service, we focus on the astounding sacrifice made so we could have the price of our sins paid. We reflect deeply on the agonizing experience Christ endured, and on the Father allowing Him to undergo that unmerited suffering. The Passover service is not for those who do not understand these things. And it takes the Spirit of God to fully understand what this ceremony pictures. That Spirit comes only after baptism—or circumcision of the heart. Anyone who would partake of this service who is not a baptized member would put himself in deep spiritual trouble (see 1 Corinthians 11:29).
Just as those who are unbaptized should not partake of the Passover, those who are baptized are commanded to partake. If they do not, then they are under a sobering warning from Jesus Christ: “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John 6:53). We symbolically take in the life of Jesus Christ when we eat a small piece of unleavened bread and drink a small cup of wine. If we fail to partake of this ceremony, there is no life in us. Christ is referring here to eternal life!
So the answer to “Should I be keeping Passover” is only after you have made the solemn decision to dedicate your life to God and to His purpose, and only after you have demonstrated that commitment by being baptized into the Body of Jesus Christ by one of God’s true ministers.
To understand more about this profoundly life-changing commitment and the joy and purpose that results from it, order your free copy of our reprint article by Herbert W. Armstrong, “All About Water Baptism,” and “The Meaning of Passover,” from Gerald Flurry’s booklet How to Be an Overcomer.